While acceptance is growing in the United States, homosexual relationships in Mexico are still very taboo. Because of the stigma, Mexican prisoners with HIV or AIDS is really not a topic for discussion either, including prevention. In fact, many prison administrators deny that sex among inmates exists apart from specifically dedicated conjugal visits.
The prisoners certainly tell a different story. “We are a population of men, and it’s normal for men to have sex with whoever is around.” Ignorance and denial of this prison reality means that no scientific surveys of AIDS rates among prisoners exist. In fact, official statistics place the number of HIV-positive inmates in the capital’s prisons at a mere 62. There is no testing of the prisoner population and in many cases, convicts think that it is spread by mosquitoes, kisses, or even shared toothbrushes.
To find out what they're doing about it, and how similar methods have triumphed in Malawi,
An outreach effort is currently underway to raise awareness about HIV in Mexican prisons. In one of Latin America’s toughest prisons, Reclusorio Preventive Oriente, such a program has been allowed, but the warden demonstrates the real need for its implementation. According to him, “I don’t know the level of HIV in this prison. I think it’s minimal. It’s almost nothing.”
Meanwhile across the world, a country that is not only acknowledging that HIV is a problem, but is beginning to turn the tide, is the African nation of Malawi. There they have witnessed a 75 percent drop in AIDS-related deaths over the past four years. The reason? Free medicine that helps prolong the lives of those who have contracted the virus. Since March of 2008, the government has put 159,111 people on subsidized antiretroviral drugs and 106,547 are still alive today.
How can a stigma that exists as strongly as it does in Mexican prisons be erased so the education and care needed can be given? How can Mexico become more like Malawi?